Professors’ Romantic Advances Undermine Students’ Academic Interest, Confidence, and Identification


Expressions of sexual interest on the part of professors toward students can be unfairly coercive due to the power dynamic involved. Three experiments (totaling 336 participants) explore a different cost of such sexual overtures or “passes.” That cost involves students’ interest in pursuing success in the scholarly field in which the pass occurred. U.S. college students, both male and female, contemplated receiving a pass from a professor who had previously praised their abilities in a valued field of study. Afterwards, compared to their peers who did not contemplate such a pass, those who did imagine a pass reported decreased academic identification (Experiments 1 and 3), more negative perceptions about how their professor viewed them (and more negative perceptions of their professor; Experiments 1–3), and lower state self-esteem (Experiment 3). Female students were more susceptible to these deleterious consequence than were male students, and the difference persisted regardless of the professor’s gender (Experiment 2). This gender difference was due in part to women’s more intense reaction to the doubts that the pass raised for them about their academic fitness. These results hold important implications for how sexual advances in academic settings should be viewed by suggesting an important and previously undocumented set of negative consequences that arise when professors make passes at students.

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Correspondence to Emily Pronin.

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The present experiments received funding from Princeton University. Accepted principles of ethical and professional conduct were employed by both authors in the conduct of this research. There are no conflicts of interest to declare. The research involved human subjects, and participants provided informed consent prior to participating. No animals were involved in this research.

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Laird, A.A., Pronin, E. Professors’ Romantic Advances Undermine Students’ Academic Interest, Confidence, and Identification. Sex Roles 83, 1–15 (2020).

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  • Academic identification
  • Gender
  • Sexual harassment
  • Self-esteem
  • College students